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Depression Health Center

Depression Often Starts in Childhood

New research shows that depression starts early in life.
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Children who are depressed may not do well in school, may become socially isolated, and may have difficult relationships with family and friends, Fassler says. Depression in children is also associated with an increased risk for suicide. The rate of suicide among young people has nearly tripled since 1960 and is the sixth leading cause of death among children between the ages of 5 and 14, the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, and the second leading cause of death among college students.

According to the NMHA, the following symptoms in children may indicate depression:

  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, or crying
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Lack of enthusiasm or motivation
  • Decreased energy level
  • Major changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Increased irritability, agitation, anger, or hostility
  • Frequent physical complaints such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Indecision or inability to concentrate
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Pattern of dark images in drawings or paintings
  • Play that involves excessive aggression directed toward oneself or others, or involves persistently sad themes
  • Recurring thoughts or talk of death, suicide, or self-destructive behavior

If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms for longer than two weeks, you should consult your pediatrician, says Hockey. "Many of these symptoms can also be traced to physical complaints -- such as thyroid problems, mononucleosis, immune system disorders, long-term antibiotic use, or chronic, long-term allergies -- so it's important to get an accurate diagnosis."

Infants and toddlers, who are not at the same stage of expressing themselves as older children, may still exhibit symptoms of depression; in their case, says Fassler, pay attention if your child is withdrawn, doesn't smile, doesn't want to play, won't interact with other people, and starts losing weight.

If your doctor does think treatment for depression is indicated, childhood mental health experts emphasize that it's usually very successful. With a multi-pronged approach of individual, family, and/or school counseling -- and perhaps the use of antidepressants -- 75% to 80% of children suffering from depression can be successfully treated, says Fassler. Without treatment, he says, many will go on to have a second episode of depression within two years.

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